Two More Atheist Stuffs

Morality

Let me try to get this right. If I say that I doubt the existence of any gods thus far divulged by humanity, people like Steve Harvey, Oprah W., the late George H. W. Bush, and millions of others will stamp me an immoral and untrustworthy person no matter how I live my life. Bush would even deny my citizenship (with all due respect for his pardons for the Iran-Contra criminals).

If I say I believe in a god, especially if it’s theirs, then I am not branded quite as despicable. And if I’m a truly saved Southern Baptist, my behavior becomes irrelevant because I believe and done got saved (once saved, always saved). If I say I believe, even if it is a god damn lie, it’s good enough.

I doubt that any believers feign atheism. But I am certain that many atheists or agnostics, by either omission or action, pretend to believe in a god when they do not or have serious doubts. I have, on occasion, either gone along with something religious or kept my mouth shut about it, and sometimes I still do. It’s not an easy thing to do either way. While I am not closeted, I don’t wear atheist on my shirtsleeve (except for this blog) because it makes my life and that of my spouse safer.

What is so wrong about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do? Do we all need biblical reference or religious dogma to back up our choices of right and wrong? The truly sad part of this is that I suspect more than a few agnostics and atheists buy into the myth that religious people are more moral because they belong to a religion or believe one of those gods exist. There is no evidence for the claim that believers are more moral than atheists. We’re all just a bit brain washed!

For all of us, morality exists on a continuum and may change with circumstances. But what is more immoral, judging others as bad or evil simply for what they believe? Or, judging people based on their behavior regardless of religion or spiritual path?

Numbers

When research groups like Pew, Gallup, Harris, and others attempt to determine something, they take a poll by asking questions. Why would someone say they are atheist or do not believe in god if it might cause them a problem? Try this.

Q> What religion are you? A> Ummm….none.
Q> Do you believe in God? A> Ummm, uh, kind of, yes, I think something.
Q> Do you masturbate? A> Absolutely not. Never.
Q> Do you think God is watching you? A> What?

One guy called The Atheist Experience and claimed 95% of people believe in a god. His estimate went unchallenged and only his logic error was addressed. I agree with what Christopher Hitchens opined on the topic of percentage of believers and non-believers. I think that much more than 20% of US Citizens are atheist (although a yes or no answers can be hard to get). Only a small percentage of us admit/claim/embrace it. No one knows and will never know how many or what percentage do not really believe in any gods.

When I read the Pew numbers for the central Texas county I live in, it claimed 60% were nones; meaning they do not practice or align with any specific religion. Every atheist in this county falls into that group, including me, whether we admit atheism or not. However, there are certainly exceptions.

If you want more, this link has an excellent article on the subject.

 

Bill

Dumber than Dirt

Useless as tits on a boar hog is an idiomatic phrase, which I first heard my native Texan, country-girl wife mutter regarding a person, usually a male of the lower producing variety.

But idiom aside, why do males have nipples? I had to bandage or petroleum jelly mine, lest they bleed on my shirt when I ran long distances. Boobs and nipples make sense for feeding babies and attracting some mates, but bleeding nips are a painful nuisance. Fingernails I get; but toenails have what purpose other than something that needs cutting, painting, and poking holes in socks?

I like hair, but what’s it for? We have hats, right? And babushkas, scarves, and do-rags. Is there such a thing as a functional facial hair follicle? What is an appendix for (in a body, not a book) if we can remove it and be better off? Let’s not get into foreskin, but why trim and tuck that?

Belly buttons I understand; likewise, toes, ankles, and knees have a purpose, like lungs and teeth. Brains are good, but some are under exercised (so I’m told).

How did all this happen? Do you think a god did it? A determined and delightful deity big daddy with a deadly sense of humor? I mean, we have sex, but we also have so many foibles, fetishes, and perversions. What’s all that about?

I doubt it was a god or many, or any. Otherwise my wife would have to find some other disparaging idiom, like dumber than a box of rocks.

 

What are you afraid of?

This essay is based upon the post, The How of Atheism?, from the blog ‘TheCommonAtheist.’

Fear is a normal human emotion. Usually, it’s a beneficial one. But it can be a choke point in human progress.

For example, when I first started riding a motorcycle I progressed to high-speed highway driving. With no seat belt, no metal cage surrounding me with air bags, and no safety devices, other than what I was wearing; traveling upwards of 70 miles per hour surrounded by cars with drivers poorly skilled or foolish, with parts of my body passing unprotected only inches from hard, hot pavement, and all of me exposed to natural and unnatural elements; I was scared riding my motorcycle. It is inherently dangerous. Known danger begets fear, but sometimes the same risk elicits pleasure.

Anytime while riding a motorcycle you need to be alert but relaxed and loose enough to respond at any speed. Instructors will tell you to be relaxed because body tension will hamper both physical response and mental judgment. I agree. Being alert and aware was no problem. However, the amount of body tension caused by fear is overwhelming and no amount of relax, relax, calm down was going to alleviate it. Experience over time helps, but the other side of the confidence curve has probably resulted in more serious accidents than bodily tension.

Fear of extinction (Psychology Today’s term for fear of death or dying) is a big deal. It’s normal, they say. If you add to that religion’s threats of permanent torture (Hell), you have raised someone’s anxiety level regarding death significantly. But not for everyone. There have always been atheists in fox holes and some have died there. In the USA, we remember them on Memorial Day.

To many believers merely doubting the existence of god is your ticket to Hell. It doesn’t matter how wonderfully charitable and loving you’ve lived your life. Religion has its dark and irrational side.

In his post, Jim postulates that atheism mitigates that fear better than a religion, especially Christianity or Islam.

I do not fear extinction. I agree in that I fear the pain and suffering of the dying process more than I fear its completion. Leonard Cohen said the same thing in an interview. Cohen also said, I was dead before I was born, and I recall no problems (I’m paraphrasing).

I recall my mother declining my offer to call a priest for last rights when she was dying. Mom was not atheist, but she said that after years of ignoring her religion she was not about to start then, a remarkable thing for a Catholic to say about the last sacrament in the face of death. She also said, “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” I did not request elaboration.

Leaning on parts from Jim’s post a bit more, Atheism is

trusting your own judgment and weighing evidence,
realizing that humans are easily deceived and manipulated by guilt,
accepting the natural goodness and innocence of humanity,
accepting human rationality, reason, and the inevitability of death.
acceptance of the here and now and responsibility derived from reality;
a fundamental rejection of fear-based belief in gods and religious prescriptions of morality associated with fear of retribution.
And it embraces the uniqueness of the individual and it is a personal claim to integrity.

To paraphrase (Jim and Paul), Oh death, where is my fear of thy sting?

Here are a few more quotes that are linked to the source. But they certainly stand alone and are based more on academic research than this old skeptic’s pondering.

So non-believers are not only distrusted; they also stir up morbid thoughts, and perhaps raise discomforting doubts about what happens after we die.

First, that fear motivates religious belief, and second, that religious belief mitigates fear. And…While the fear of actual death—painfully, slowly—is apparent, the existential crisis encountered at the prospect of nothingness appears to cause the most anxiety.

Bill

When I First Believed and Didn’t

“What could be more foolish than to base one’s entire view of life on ideas that, however plausible at the time, now appear to be quite erroneous? And what would be more important than to find our true place in the universe by removing one by one these unfortunate vestiges of earlier beliefs?”—-Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, 1988

“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”—Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1892, Act III (Mr. Dumby to Cecil Graham)

I was baptized before I was two weeks old. I don’t recall much of that day. I don’t think I believed in God or any of the other religious things I later would. The religious reason for the Catholic Sacrament at that age was that if I had died, I would not go to heaven unless baptized. I would go to Limbo with all the other unbaptized, until the Church decided that Limbo did not really exist.

I went to a Catholic school taught by nuns. We didn’t go to Mass in Kindergarten, but starting with First Grade, 9:00 a.m. Mass (in Latin) was mandatory. We sat up front with our class, boys on one side, girls on the other until graduation at the end of 8th grade. I went to public high school for 9th through 12th grade.

In grade school, I was taught about God, Jesus, the Blessed Trinity, and all the religious stuff I could fit into my brain. I believed it. I had some arguments about it with my father because I stood by what the nuns and priests told us. He was old school and much stricter. He always had the option of asking the ordained and religious, but he never did.

To the extent that a boy between the ages of six and fourteen can believe what he has been told about god and all the other religious stuff, I believed. I can’t say that I had a specific Jesus is my lord and savior moment because we didn’t do that.

In my personal world, I believed two other things: everyone I knew was Catholic and everyone believed in god. Neither was correct. I can’t say exactly when I came to believe of my own volition, or even if I did.

In the summer of 1960, I turned 14. That September I began an excursion into the realities of the somewhat secular educational world. I did not escape having god and religion forced upon me. We still prayed in school and had bible readings (mandatory state law) until June of 1963. My senior year began the following September.

After that, neither prayer nor bible reading could be constitutionally mandated or school sponsored. I would not have labeled myself as a nonbeliever at that point. A serious doubter might work. During that final year of high school, I was probably a practical atheist in that while I considered myself to be Catholic, I did not practice the religion.

Thirty years later, during the 1990s my religious opinions and behaviors might be viewed as a metal ball bouncing around the playing field of a pinball machine. The flippers and bumpers would knock me into other ideas or possibilities. I’d bounce off one bumper and into another, then another.

In the mid-90s, my spiritual reading and experimenting increased. I was a nonbeliever trying to believe. I was a seeker or searcher in the spiritual sense. I became seriously interested in eastern religious thought, spirituality, and meditation, some of it New Age nonsense. During that time I read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, and decided to give Catholicism one more try.

Merton described seeing a deeply religious woman in a church. He envied her faith. I had the same experience. I was going to do everything I could to get this god and religion thing right. I convinced myself that there was a god. I felt that I had overcome my doubts forever. For almost 12 years, I did.

It was a cannonball dive into the deep end of the Christian religion and the Catholic Church. I did everything I could: taught bible study and religious education to adults and children, belonged to as many ministries as I could make time for. Eventually, I was elected President of the Parish Council for two years in our large Parish of more than five thousand families. I even began the process of being ordained as a Deacon, something not taken lightly in the Church or by me, and second only to becoming a Priest. I withdrew late in the process.

I recall teaching an adult class on The Problem of Evil. It had gone well. At the end of the class one lady raised her hand and asked me how I reconciled everything that I had just said with what I believed as a practicing Catholic. I don’t recall my answer.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen, lyrics from his song, Anthem

That was when my transition from Christian to Atheist began. Within two years I walked away from the Catholic Church for good. I disavowed my Catholic faith in writing. Soon thereafter I realized that I did not believe in the existence of any gods, demons, spirits, heaven or hell, or any of it.

I retired three years after leaving the Church and we moved again to yet another state. After about a year there, I was openly atheist. There are several key events and conclusions along my road to disbelief. Each conclusion was preceded by a long time of study, thought, and deciding. That continues.

Just as there was not a date and time when I believed, there was not a specific moment when I decided that I’m a convinced atheist. The metamorphosis was gradual. I simply and incrementally walked away from it all.

They Believed in the Hog Apocalypse

 

In religion, faith is trust in some belief. Believers often think faith is confidence with a perceived degree of warrant. I would have said for a reason.

I think faith is belief without evidence. If it’s not, as many believers want to claim, show me the evidence for what you believe.

My question is why do we believe what we do? Regarding religion or belief in a god, the answer is often faith. There are other answers, but as reasons change, beliefs likewise morph and twist. With most people it seems more complex, but eventually the answer appears to be either a choice or faith.

Since choice seems rational and based on some form of evidence (scripture, existence, what else could it be?), faith is usually the last argument standing, if you can call it that. It is not long before logic has been cast into the flames of the argument.

I’ve read several claims that faith is something other than belief without evidence, none of which seemed very good unless you happen to be a person of faith. Belief based on faith (or feelings or what one wants) seems rational to the believer.

I used to hike and trail-run at a wilderness area called Government Canyon, near San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country. I’ve been there often and have seen the evidence of wildlife: a coyote or two, the occasional snake, scat of all kinds, and turned soil caused by hogs. I never saw a hog or heard one. I’ve only witnessed their mess. The biggest danger for me was the mountain bikers, some of whom thought I had rearward looking radar.

I’ve read no accounts of hikers being mauled by hogs, but I’m sure it’s happened, especially in the state of Arkansas. Click here to see some dipshits hunting hogs, and being charged.

Then, I read this account of two hikers at my old stomping grounds. They heard hogs attacking, climbed a tree for safety, and called park rangers or 911 to rescue them. They waited safe and sound up the tree until the officer arrived. As they were talking, the two hikers heard the sound of the charging hogs and told the ranger they were under attack.

When he finally stopped laughing, he invited them down from the tree. The kind ranger explained that what they heard was a car driving over rumble strips on a nearby road. To be fair to the two (who maybe ought not be out alone), there are hogs there. They do get pissed if people bother them (like hunters), and paranoia strikes deep, like in the old Buffalo Springfield tune For What It’s Worth:

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the men come and take you away

At least it wasn’t the devil they were worried about. Yet, neither did they have enough evidence for such paranoid faith as to believe in the attack of the feral hogs. They transferred their faith to the police officer who had to hike in and rescue them from their own imaginary fears.

Yet, people believe much more crazy shit with far less evidence or any real likelihood. Then they expect others to believe it too, and they are mortified when one of us says, it’s really not what you think it is.

Bill

 

If you’re really into the why people (we) believe what we do, Godless in Dixie has a great piece about it. Click here to see it.

Conversation Validity

Neil Carter said he was asked, “What drives you to be so adamant in sharing your atheistic beliefs? What is the driving force behind you? To influence others to be nonbelievers??”

The first part of his response encapsulates my thoughts.

“First of all, to me this question implies that, while it’s laudable for the religious to wear their beliefs on their sleeves and talk about them in public spaces, when nonbelievers openly share about their own perspectives it’s just wrong and, gosh, why would you take it upon yourself to talk about this stuff in public? What’s wrong with you?

“My departure from the faith upset many people, but nothing bothered them more than my decision to start writing and speaking about it openly. That took people from sad to angry really quickly, and that’s because the only socially acceptable atheism is that which keeps its thoughts to itself (my emphasis). That disparity alone is reason enough for people like me to write and speak about why we left.” ~ Neil Carter, Godless in Dixie blog

Visiting Christians

We were expecting company. Friends who are devout/ardent Lutherans (when he is not angry at them and singing with the Baptists). I occasionally wore some jewelry that identified me as atheist, if anyone paid attention (which they don’t). My wife suggested I not wear the items when the two visitors were with us, so as not to upset them. I suggested that my opinion regarding any god was as valid as theirs. She agreed and withdrew her request, but I didn’t wear the items simply to avoid discussion and to prevent my atheism from causing a problem with her friends. Acceptance and tolerance are the best I could do, but that works. Do I handle such things wrong?

They were visiting over a weekend. We decided to drive past several local Lutheran churches so they could see if the right combination of letters appeared on any of the church marquee signs. If so, they would know it was safe for them to attend a Sunday service there. We offered transport, not attendance.

Since they could not identify any of the churches as suitable with the right flavor of Lutheranism, they did not go. Apparently, there are valid synod reasons for not keeping the third commandment (or fourth, depending on how you slice them). Online resources identify 40 different types of Lutheran.

Thou Shalt Not Say It

I was discussing atheism and a book by Sam Harris in an organized mens book club. A few members spent several long uninterrupted minutes explaining something about their religion. An older gentleman interrupted me to say that he was an atheist but never wrote or spoke about it. He just was and that was the end of it. His comment made me realize that many other atheists are likewise silent. They don’t believe in any god and that’s the end of it. Nobody needs to know. Nothing need be said. It might upset the theists. Is that cooperation or submissiveness?

Since then, I have had several people confess their atheism, or that of their loved ones, to me because they knew I had embraced disbelief. That makes me safe. Normally, such confessions are made in private. While I was never asked me to keep a secret, it was clear to me that they (or the loved one), while not exactly closeted, were not public or outspoken.

I Get It

While I understand the reluctance to speak up, all this is very telling. My wife and I were practicing Catholics. That was acceptable, even though several family members and some friends resented it or disapproved, especially in her case since she was a convert from Protestantism. But atheism? That’s a whole other deal. Atheists are considered the worst. For the record, my wife does not claim to disbelieve.

When people choose to keep their opinions private I don’t want a vote or a voice in what they should do, but I have an opinion. If people (atheists, agnostics, free thinkers, skeptics) go through the motions of going to church to avoid a personal conflict or crisis, I understand their actions. But I also know that living a lie for the sake of peace is not heroic, it’s personal martyrdom at the hands of religion to please the religious. I can’t imagine the weight of pretending to be religious for the sake of others. It is a form of reverse religious persecution.

Anyway, other than one friend who simply asked, are you an atheist?, no one has questioned my incredulity. It’s no secret. At least one neighbor knows, my kids all know (I think; not sure of grands), and most, if not all, of my friends know. Yet, believers who don’t know about me will try to flash their religion, church, or prayerfulness at me. I assume their motive is to impress. Do you know what a horse laugh is?

It’s Not Okay

I will not allow anyone to think that I believe in any god or that I practice any religion. That would be unfair to them, to other non-believers, to my friends and family, and to me. When faced with the conversation, I am willing to have it. I will try not to use terms like woo-woo, bullshit, do you really fucking believe that crap?, or holy shit!

I will tell anyone why I am atheist, but first they must tell me what they believe and why they think I should. It is a valid conversation to have. My views are as worthy as anyone’s.

In 21st Century USA, or anywhere in the world, no one should be imprisoned or burdened by the religions or religious views of friends, neighbors, or family. Freedom of religion must include freedom from religion or there is no freedom at all. If you think otherwise, you do not understand freedom, religion, or history.

Bill

 

 

Why I Decided to Identify as Atheist

At my first job after college graduation, I worked with two guys about my age. One was my boss. The other was a guy named Spenser. One day as we walked to the car, Spencer asked me, “Are you a Christian?” I thought it an odd question, but Spencer was an odd man. I said yes. He then asked if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I tried to explain that Catholics don’t use that phrase or see baptism in quite the same way many protestant denominations did.

Then Spenser informed me that unless I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I was not a Christian. I had been baptized at eight days of age, had the sacraments of first confession and First Holy Communion, believed that the consecrated wafer was the actual body and blood of Christ, and I took my middle name during the Sacrament of Confirmation in honor of Saint John the Evangelist. I had prayed my ass off for over 20 years to Jesus, to his mum, and (mainly) to his biological father, as well as to other long-forgotten saints. Spenser’s got saved point of view seemed shallow simple to me. However, here in the Bible Belt, it remains the trope de rigueur.

Yet this smugly self-righteous graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and ordained Southern Baptist minister, refuted my claim based on how he and his denomination defined members of the world’s largest religion (Christianity). The differences were how Spenser and I defined a Christian based upon our diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Despite our hairsplitting points of view, when someone identifies as Christian, Muslim, Jew, or as members of most religions, we generally form a somewhat accurate idea of that religious claim.

For religious purposes, I am forced to classify myself as a none. Apostate Catholic is not an option, even if true. My rejection of all religion is not the same as no preference, but I don’t make the lists. I am ok with Atheist, but it is not a religion, even though some numbskulls claim it is. Since athesit identifies me for what I’m not, I wish there was a better word. There’s not.

Thus, I identify as atheist. I also use skeptic, nonbeliever, freethinker, heathen, or whatever synonym fits the situation. Today, Spenser would be correct. I am not Christian. Some believers who came to know me before discovering my unbelief said I am was one of the good (or nice) atheists. Sometimes that aspect of me can be called cooperative. But I hold a dim view of religion, which would make me neither good nor nice in their view

I avoid the less-offensive terms like agnostic, humanist, or non-religious, even though a case can be made for each applying to me. I eschew the term spiritual because it is confusing (even among atheists) and has its own baggage. The stigma associated with embracing atheism (or any form of religious doubt) troubles me because even as a believer I never shared that negative view most others held of atheists.

I openly identify as atheist so that I can help others understand atheists and atheism. I would like to demonstrate that I am no better and no worse a person because I believe in no gods. I would also like to think that by being open and out I can encourage others to step forward and claim their truth.

Bill